What can surfing teach you about ownership?

Daniel C. Russell is Professor of Philosophy in the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona, and the Percy Seymour Reader in Ancient History and Philosophy at Ormond College, University of Melbourne. His research focuses on ancient and contemporary ethics.

Imagine you’re out surfing with some friends. You don’t want to be too selfish and be seen as hogging the waves. If you don’t establish a system of ownership over the waves, you and your friends may watch a lot of good waves pass you by. Alternatively, one of your friends or another surfer at the beach might push and shove and take all of the best waves. Either way, this is not a recipe for a good time surfing. What’s necessary—and usually employed by surfers—is a system of property rights over the waves. Prof. Dan Russell explains how ownership and selfishness are not the same. He shows that ownership provides a number of positive benefits to society, including allowing for conservation and protecting the most vulnerable people in society. Prof. Russell says, “If we care about fairness for everyone, we have to care about ownership.” This is true in surfing and in our daily lives.